Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vacation Home Investing—Part 3 Renovations Begin

I purchased a FNMA foreclosure which needed some work, but I had a plan. Everyone tells you to leave an extra 10-20% for contingencies, but I decided I would just over-estimate my expenses and that would cover contingencies. I’ll let you in on the first two of three secrets:  you ABSOLUTELY need to allocate for contingencies because they will happen and the first contractor is always the worst.  (Note:  all pictures of my cabin are “before pictures.)

You already know I research everything.  Even with all my research, the first contractor I choose is invariably the least competent one. It doesn’t matter how many or how good the references are, or how long they have256Charpentier_médiéval been in business, or how great their website is.  For me, the first is the worst.  Suffice it to say that I started out by hiring a probably wonderful builder, but a bad building inspector. I knew it when he showed up with no ladder or tools and was not dressed to crawl into the crawl space. He told me a least one thing I didn’t know, so I counted it as a successful experience at the time. I wasn’t worried because I was already in contract, so no matter what the inspector found, I would move forward.

My husband was worried about my security and  friends of ours near Laurelville had been visited by gateburglars until they installed a gate, so my first step was to install a farm gate at the road. I found the gate at a local store and they gave me the name of someone who could install it, but that person never returned my calls (contractor #1). I found another contractor and he successfully installed it. 

A gate needs a lock and my search for the toughest lockc0bc661f-9f70-4ba6-b088-7e14d86320c7 led me to one with a strange sounding name.  New York Fahgettaboudit.  This is a lock used to secure motorcycles and bicycles in New York City, so it would be fine for my country gate.  It uses a type of lock technology that makes it virtually impossible to pick or fabricate a duplicate key.  These locks are known as rotating disk locks and when the key is inserted and turned, disks, like tumblers in a safe lock, rotate to the desired position.

With the gate in place and locked, it was time to start working on the inside.  Everything had been painted009 horrible colors (pink, bright blue) and all other surfaces were pink wallboard patterned with tiny flowers.  The kitchen countertop was white and stained.  I primered everything and painted the walls in forest shades and painted the counter in wheat. (Note: this was a paint-and-dash situation—counter paint smells horrid). 

Now, I don’t normally purchase paint like others do.  I purchase mis-tints at greatly reduced prices ($5 to $10), then mix them to get my desired shade, not always with the best results.  I painted the two largest rooms twice, just to get the correct color—one that was pleasant to look at.  And when I ran out of my special mix in the middle of painting a room, I discovered how hard it is to match my mixes.  When I mix paints, I mix glosses and flats and semi-glosses and different paint brands.  When you have paint matched at the store, they ask you what brand it is.  Different brands have different characteristics.  I created a challenge for the paint department with my custom mixes.  It took them several tries and they never did get the exact color, but it was close enough.  I am not a good painter and it took about a year to finish the last bit of wall.   

After I’d paint a room I would start ripping out the005 carpet.  This is smart because you can use the carpet as a drop cloth.  Unfortunately for the floors, ripping out carpet was quicker than painting on the first two rooms, so I decided to rip first and paint later.  Unfortunate because when we painted, we spilled an entire tray of primer on the bare subfloor in the main room which I had wanted to stain.  (I say we, because I had acquired a younger, stronger, helper.)  Oh, well, Plan B. 

Who installs carpet and then builds walls over it? In one room, that is how the carpet was secured:  with staples and tack strips and held down by the wall.    The carpets were cheap and ugly and I had no intention of using carpet anywhere.  I used a linoleum cutter to rip the carpet and pad to manageable sizes, lengths that would fit in my Honda Civic.  How did we get it out from underneath the walls?  Brute force.   You can still see the shoe prints where we braced against the wall to pull it out.  After the tugging and pulling, I used a pry bar to pull up the nails, staples, and tack strips, and a scissors to trim the yarn that held onto the wall base.  It took weeks of work days to remove all the carpet.  For a number of months, I worked with rolled up carpet in a queue, waiting to be driven home and trashed, because I could fit only one or two rolls at a time in my car.

My gate installation contractor was ready to start on the bathrooms.  He would be replacing subfloor, 013installing a shower, and replacing two vanities.  I  had hoped to use a prefabricated shower from Lowes, but the salesman pointed out to me that it would not fit through the doorway.  So I bought shower walls and base and fixtures, a refrigerator, and  bathroom vanities and sinks, all of which Lowes delivered for my contractor’s use. 

Stay tuned for the next installment where I discuss my second secret and how I worked around the disaster that lay ahead.

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